Silence & Spirit

By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93

A colleague and myself developed a five week discernment series when we worked together at Santa Clara University. Over the next few weeks I will share portions of this work for your own vocational discernment, this is part four of five

Image for prayer: Rest in the sunshine of God’s love.

Peace

Peace

Start today’s reflection by taking a moment to be silent. What sounds do you notice in this moment? A cat purring, a refrigerator humming, the wind blowing, a door creaking, someone typing on the computer, the sun being covered by clouds and revealed a moment later. How long do you think you were silent for? Was it easy for you to sink into silence? What was challenging about it?

Learning to be still with God is a skill we can practice. We are better listeners (and therefore discerners) when we take time to be still and quiet. Sometimes it helps to call to mind that we are surrounded by God’s love, grace and freedom. In doing so we begin to slow down all the “doing,” and focus on “being.” This is a challenge in our culture so much of who we are is defined by what we do, but truly there is nothing you can do to make God love you less…there is nothing you can do to make God love you more. God’s love is unconditional and a love of abundance.

This week I invite you to create space for you to enter into silence. There are many ways of doing this, and perhaps you have ways you already do it that you would like to share with us. I welcome that!

Possible ways to enter into silence:

  • Mindful walking.
  • Holding something in your hand such as a smooth stone.
  • Sitting in the Visitation Chapel in North Minneapolis or a quiet, beautiful place of your choice.
  • Focusing on your own breath, and relaxing all the parts of your body.
  • Reading a scripture of sacred text slowly/prayerfully.
  • Or talking to God, Jesus, or Mary, or a wise guide of yours.

Some say, and I would agree that our first vocation in this life is to be human. How does silence steep us in our own humanity? Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Unless we take the time to be silent, we don’t really know our own humanity.

It is okay to be nervous about this, lot’s of people are! Some common fears people share when they start a practice of silence are:

  • What if we hear things in the quiet that we don’t want to hear, i.e. an invitation to a difficult action, or a feeling we have been avoiding?
  • What if when we stop “doing,” we never get started again?
  • What if we notice how tired, (or depressed, or in pain) we really are?
  • What if God is the one who is silent

Let me assure you that wonderful gifts come from silence. Afterall, what if we hear our true song that only we can sing? What if we find balance we have craved? What if we find a stillness that is beautiful? God does not give us anything we cannot handle, nor abandon us.

When I worked at Santa Clara I often attended a Quaker meeting a few blocks from campus. I welcomed their way of worship

Contemplative Silence

Contemplative Silence

since most of my work week involved lots of talking and interaction. To sit with others in silence was a gift. You might want to try attending a meeting yourself if you crave silence, and wish to experience it with others. This week try on two ways of being silent. See what it holds for you. Get support around doing this if you like, ask a friend to try it with you. Know that I will be doing it with you this week and will hold a space of silence for you to enter into, you needn’t be alone.

Suggested Texts for Prayer:

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV) How do you balance the tension between doing and being? How would you put into words the ‘one thing needed’? At this point in your life, do you identify with Martha or Mary?

Psalm 46:10 (NRSV) When is it easiest to be still?

Luke 11:9-13 (NRSV) What are you asking for? What are your desires? How do you bring this to prayer?

From Kathleen Norris:

“Over the years when I worked as an artist in elementary schools I devised an exercise for the children regarding noise and silence. I’ll make a deal with you, I said—first you get to make noise, and then you’ll make silence….I found that we’d usually have to make two or three attempts to attain an acceptable din—shouting, pounding, stomping….

“The rules for silence were equally simple. Don’t hold your breath and make funny faces, I learned to say, as this is how third graders typically imagine silence. Just breathe normally but quietly: the only hard thing is to sit so still that you make no noise at all. We always had to try this more than once. A pencil would roll down someone’s desk, or someone would shift in a seat. But in every case but one, over many years, I found that children were able to become so still that silence became a presence in the classroom.“Some kids loved it. I believe it was a revelation to them, and certainly to their teachers, that they could be so quiet. ‘Let’s do it again,’ they’d say. Others weren’t so sure. ‘It’s scary,’ a fifth grader complained. ‘Why?’ I asked, and I believe that he got to the heart of it when he replied, ‘It’s like we’re waiting for something—it’s scary!’…

“What interests me most about my experiment is the way in which making silence liberated the imagination of so many children. Very few wrote with any originality about making noise. Most of their images were clichés such as ‘we sound like a herd of elephants.’ But silence was another matter: here, their images often had a depth and maturity that was unlike anything else they wrote. One boy came up with an image of strength as being ‘as slow and silent as a tree,’ another wrote that ‘silence is me sleeping waiting to wake up. Silence is a tree spreading its branches to the sun.’ In a parochial school, one third grader’s poem turned into a prayer: ‘Silence is spiders spinning their webs, it’s like a silkworm making its silk. Lord, help me to know when to be silent.’ And in a tiny town in western North Dakota a little girl offered a gem of spiritual wisdom that I find myself returning to when my life becomes too noisy and distractions overwhelm me: ‘Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.’ ”[1]

Does silence scare you? Does silence comfort you? Why?


[1] Kathleen Norris, “Silence,” Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, pp.16-17

Previous weeks: Be Attentive, Contemplative Listening, & Be Reflective


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